Once – The Musical – Review

Adam Wollerton

Once – The Musical, Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London


This week I was invited to the show that apparently you can’t just see once. The show is resonant of its film counterpart and is definitely one for fans of the film – which I am not, but still, the show is a great piece of theatre.

When first entering the auditorium, the striking factor is the intimacy of the production. Not necessarily due to the size of the auditorium but in fact because the cast is already on stage playing an array of musical numbers accompanied entirely by instruments that they play themselves. Another factor that makes this musical so intimate.

Once brings the notion of the raw and exposition of emotion that is in the film into the theatre and achieves this successfully in a number of ways. Firstly, it has to be said that new boy Arthur Darvill, as the leading boy, and leading girl, Zrinka Cvitešić, are amazing. The first song of the actual show called ‘Leave’ when sang by Arthur really grips that raw emotion behind the song. So much so that at the end of it you’re left in an awkward trance where it doesn’t seem right to applaud – though in your mind you are ferociously appreciating his talent.

Although the pace of the musical is quite steady, it has some great comedy moments – mainly created by the girl’s family but also Billy (played by Superstar hopeful Tim Prottey-Jones). He was great! Some of the initial Irish accents were a little odd but everyone seemed to settle into them eventually – including Czech boy Svec, played hilariously by Matthew Ganley.

When the show reached the Oscar winning song ‘Falling Slowly´, the audience appeared to wake up a little in terms of displaying their appreciation for the talents of the actors and we had a burst of applause. This song was sung amazingly by dashing doter Darvill and cutesy Czech Cvitešić with their voices blending perfectly. They both have such unique voices – Darvill is raspy yet clean and inviting, and Cvitešić is a little powerhouse with a belting chest voice that really grips the audience.

The show also has to be credited for some amazing harmony constructions throughout with a beautiful song created purely aca-pella. The fact that this entire sound for this show is constructed by the cast themselves is hugely credible and really gives the show its uniqueness – I have only seen this once before in a version of Chess but in Once, there is a real connection between each cast member and their instrument. There was a great chorus number that the whole cast danced whilst playing the instruments which was again, brilliant.

The relationship between Darvill and Cvitešić is beautiful to watch. It seems genuine and is understated and I cannot imagine either part cast any better, to be honest.

Speaking of appearances, the set for the show and the constructions of each individual scene is smooth and a pleasure to watch with no jolted blackouts or length scene changes. The cast act as the crew and in some ways each change was quite artistic with melodic beats and choreographed exchanges. The cast were very successful in establishing varying environments in a set that was constructed of the inside of a bar.

Adding to the intimate nature of the show, during the interval, the bar that was the set opened up and the audience were invited to go get drinks from the bar on stage. A surreal experience but a successful ploy to really ‘force’ an audience engagement and relationship with the production.

Overall, this musical is one that has a unique edge to it. It’s organic and raw sounds and music convey the emotion of the story empathetically and really draw the audience to connect with the characters whom are played perfectly by their actor counter-part. This is a musical that you may not see a huge amount of times, but it is definitely a show that you must experience at least once.

About Adam Wollerton

Adam is a Writer and Director of Off-West End and West End Theatre Productions. He is also the Co-Founder of Curious Tales Theatre Company and is the author of LoveStuck: A New Musical.